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Manatee Commissioners to Consider Allowing Backyard Chickens

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BRADENTON --  Members of the group CLUCK showed up to Tuesday's BOCC work session with kids in tow, wearing their yellow shirts and carrying a basket of eggs to ask commissioners to consider allowing residential chickens in their yards. They said they were there to dispel the myths surrounding the "backyard chicken" movement, with hopes to convince Manatee County Commissioners to amend the ordinance that prevents them from putting fresh eggs on their breakfast table.

A group of 20, Citizens Lobbying for Urban Chicken Keeping (CLUCK), presented a convincing argument. Kathleen Thompson said the main reason staff recommended to not amend the code to allow backyard chickens was for health reasons. She said regulations, enforcement of them, and the impact to neighbors was of equal concern. 

But, if the commission were to modify the code to allow backyard chickens in homes zoned residential (they are currently allowed on properties zoned agricultural), the new code would most likely allow hens only, have them kept in a minimum size cage, limit the number to 10, and owners of dogs and cats would be immune to lawsuits in situations where a chicken is harmed or killed by one, outside the chicken owner's property.

CLUCK supporters often referred to the dangers, the noise and the environmental burden dogs and cats present, which they said far exceeded that of chickens.

"It's a myth," said Kimberly Hodge. "A USDA report on poultry says more disease come from dogs and cats than from chickens. Hodge added that the USDA provides management guidelines for raising chickens.

Robert Kluson, a senior member of CLUCK, as well as an extension agent for University of Florida FAS program in Sarasota who holds a PH.D said, "We have been waiting since 2011 for staff to meet with us, and they haven't."

Kluson asserted, among other statistics, "In 2008, Colorado had reported over 12,000 animal related complaints, and only three were chicken related."

Back in 2011, commissioners asked staff to meet with members of CLUCK, to see what could be figured out. 

Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said she had heard eggs had to be pasteurized, to prevent salmonella, "I am concerned with the children and older citizens. We could be liable."  

Lea Etchells said, "That's a myth, those concerns come from the stack farming." She said that close quarters risk disease, and there is no evidence to reduced property value either. Etchells added, "In 2008, Money magazine reported, that of the best places to live, 8 out of 10, allowed chickens."

Commissioner Whitmore said, "I have friends in Myakka, I get eggs all the time. We need to teach kids where food comes from, and it's not grocery stores." Whitmore added, "Back to the basics, we won't eat regular store-bought eggs. They have lots of hormones in them."

Responding to Code Enforcement Division Manager, Joe Fenton's claim, "We don't have the manpower to enforce this," Commissioner Gallen said that it would be complaint driven, and replied, "We have a number of laws on the books, and we don't go looking for violations." Gallen said, "I grew up in Northwest Bradenton and had chickens," then  added, "it is a fairness issue with citizens."

Next Tuesday, at the regular BOCC meeting, 10 A.M. (time certain), the commission will vote on whether to amend the code (possibly on a temporary trial basis).  

CLUCK presented the "Chicken Train at the recent Rubonia Mardis Gras Parade to help lobby for their cause
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